Creating a Personal Brand: Too Late! You Already Have One

By  | August 2, 2011 | Web Pro Business

There was a particular manager at the company whose name I’d heard several times, but I had yet to meet. Despite that, I felt like I knew him well, because, whenever his name came up in conversation, the typical reaction I heard was, “He’s a real a$$*#%! h@#!.” After about the fifth time hearing that description, I had begun to develop a very distinct impression about him. Like it or not, he had been branded.

When we think about commercial brands, we tend to think of a name, logo, or slogan … anything that is used to identify and distinguish a specific product, service, or business. But on a more basic level, a brand is an identification mark … like when a rancher or farmer uses a branding iron to mark an animal to indicate ownership. A mark can also be a symbol of disgrace or infamy, as in the Old Testament when “… the Lord set a mark upon Cain” after he killed his brother, Abel. This type of mark is used to stigmatize, condemn, or brand as disgraceful, as in the case of the a$$*#%! h@#! manager.

So a brand is a distinctive identity associated with the product, service, or organization … or in the case of the freelancer—with you. Most companies think their brand is centered around their product or service. But brands are more about the promises you deliver than the products you sell. The promise of value (and the delivery on that promise) is at the heart of it. So true branding is about selling a promise of value.

Making a promise is serious business, and, as in personal life, making too many promises, or changing them frequently, raises uncertainty in the people to whom the promises are made. Making and keeping a promise, and keeping it consistently, can be a powerful source of competitive advantage.¹

Companies can say whatever they want the buying public to believe about their organization, but it’s what they do that will be broadcast, announced, discussed, and judged in the forum of public opinion known as the Internet. Today, consumers are empowered to gather their own information and to form their ownopinions and beliefs about your company and its products or services. Yet, many larger organizations remain in denial—unaware that what they think the buying public believes about them isn’t at all what the buying public actually believes.

Want to know what your real brand is? It’s whatever word your client uses to complete the following sentence:

“Oh, [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE] … that’s the person/company who _____________________.”

What would your clients say?

I once sold for a company with an over-zealous telemarketing team. A common response I heard from homeowners after I identified myself was, “Oh … you’re the company who’s constantly calling me and won’t leave me alone.”

Remember how I said that a brand can also be a symbol of disgrace or infamy?

They say marketing is a lot like trying to read the label from inside of the bottle. It’s difficult to know what our clients truly find valuable about doing business with us, and most companies seem afraid to do the one thing it takes to find out. The owners of a small restaurant in Cherryvale, Kansas, always thought their restaurant was unique because it was “the nicest restaurant in town.” But, by surveying their customers, they discovered otherwise:

We were surprised to learn that, instead of being the “nicest” restaurant in our small town, it was known as the “birthday” and “anniversary” place. Why? Because it was the nicest place in town. So now we market it that way, always collecting data from our customers as to when their birthdays and anniversaries are, and sending them cards for a free piece of pie or box of candy when they dine here for their occasion.

As I said earlier, your brand is closely associated with the value you provide to your customers. By simplyasking their customers, the owners of this small-town restaurant discovered where their value truly lie—and were able to adjust their marketing message to match it. Determining what your customer values and then delivering on that value is what true branding is all about … regardless of whether it’s a professional or a personal brand.

Self-promotion: Do You Need a New Approach?

By  | August 2, 2011 | Web Pro Business

Recently, a freelancing friend of mine found himself out of work. He’d been working on contract with one major client, and that contract was cut off. When I spoke to him, he wasn’t sure where to look for work.

He’d spent months out of work, trying online freelance marketplaces, and mailing lists for projects. He didn’t want to get a full-time job, and wasn’t sure where else to look. I told him he should update his website and contact his past clients, but he wasn’t keen. His past clients had moved on, he said. He was really bad at email.

I said I’d help him, and we started work on his site. Days after he published it, he had a call from a multinational tech company to ask about the kinds of project he was interested in. Last week, we finally emailed his past clients. Within 12 hours, he had a string of jobs lined up.

I’m not exaggerating here. It really was that easy.

How much sooner could he have landed work if he’d been willing to try what were, to him, less appealing promotional avenues?

And what about you? Are you missing out on great projects because certain types of promotion don’t appeal to you?

Beyond your comfort zone

Many freelancers go out on their own because they want more varied work, more experimental projects, and more thrills.

But when it comes to promotion, the lower the risk of embarrassment or discomfort, the better. Or so it seems for many of us.

There will always be promotional methods that you loathe the thought of. But what about those that are just a bit difficult? Find a way to overcome your discomfort and, like my friend, you might tap into a whole new pool of opportunities.

To start, make a list of all the promotional methods you don’t hate — but don’t use. Then choose one or two, and do what it takes to make them happen.

Put some time aside in your calendar to work out how you’ll put that method into practice. If you’re not sure where to start, do what my friend did and ask friends or contacts in the industry for their advice. Once you have a plan, again schedule some time to implement it.

The power of experimentation

Call this an experiment if you like. You don’t have to commit yourself to the idea, or its success. You can simply test it out and see how it works.

That may sound silly, but many freelancers I know avoid certain promotions because they don’t want to be “the kind of freelancer who…” The kind of freelancer who’s good at networking, for example. The kind of freelancer who does public speaking. The kind of freelancer who beats their own drum through social media. The kind of freelancer who hassles past clients with spammy emails.

Fine, don’t be that kind of freelancer. Just run a small experiment and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, you can forget about it. If it does, great. That doesn’t mean you have to repeat it in future if you don’t want to. Although I have the feeling that if it does work, you’ll be more willing to use it again the next time you need work.

Have you ever stepped outside your promotional comfort zone? Did it work for you? Let us know in the comments.

The Steps of Creative Communication

The Blank Workspace

This is possibly the hardest and most ominous part of a project. If you are not already fired up about a project or you are stuck on which route you should take, the blank workspace turns into a nerve racking place. This is true for illustrators, designers, photographers, interior designers, industrial designers or anyone in the creative realm. It has been said that sketching helps free the mind and open up concepts. Don’t think of it as “This has to be done now or I will hurt my reputation, my cash-flow & the client”. Think of it as “the beginning”. Settling down and only worrying about the task at hand helps you break into the flow and start the project like you have done so many times before.


When done correctly this should be completely unharnessed and free-flowing. Are you thinking about cows covered in purple poka-dots that are flying with cheese pinwheels? Great. Get it out of your head and onto paper, a sketchbook or something that helps you and move on to another idea. Ideation should be sheer creativity, whether it’s silly, cheesy, creepy or just way out there. You can take all those ideas and dial them down later.

Note: Good ideas are discovered once all the stupid ones have exited your brain.

Information Gathering / Project Debrief

This is where you obtain the most complete and concise ideas about the project. It’s a good idea to have a pre-defined list of questions to ask the client/contact person so you obtain all the information that you will need later on in the project. It’s better to ask everything possible and get some extraneous information then find out later that you didn’t get enough information that you recorded inaccurately. If that’s the case, you have to go back to the client and re-ask questions that you should already have the answers to which, could start the project off in the wrong direction.

Investigation & Research

Google it, Yahoo it, Bing it, read it, search for it, tear it apart, dissect it, overall LEARN it. Do as much scraping as you can on the topic. Be it silly clip-art, logos, descriptions, definitions or other creations people have already created on the subject. Learn what’s been created then expand into your own version. You’re the vehicle for the message. Make sure you don’t muddy the waters in the process.

Note: Expanding into your own version does not mean: copy and paste, then re-create or repurpose someone else’s work.

Brainstorming / Problem Solving

You have the scope of the project all of your ideas that you jotted down or sketched out plus all of your investigative research. What happens now? You have to put it all to use. You have to tie all this into one great, creative entity so whoever consumes it understands exactly what you are talking about. This isn’t about finding new ideas, it’s about harnessing the ideas you’ve already discovered and then putting them together as something useful to solve the creative problem.

Explaining the Visual

The lost art of explaining messaging without spelling it out. If you’re working on a design does it actually do something functionally? i.e. Does it make the audience draw their own conclusion? Does the brochure help the user understand the client/topic? Does the site help someone gain information and was it easy to obtain? Does your logo solve or help identify the brand? Does your illustration support the rest of the project?

Did you just jazz something up and make it pretty because “you’re a creative” and that’s what you do? We don’t just make things pretty, we solve problems and make it easier to digest and use. If you’re making decisions based on prettification and not function, maybe the heart of your message is off. All your creative should focus on presentation & communication regardless if it’s on the web, a printed piece, photography, installations, physical objects, copyrighting, illustrations or anything of the sort.


This is one of the hardest concepts to achieve through creativity. Timeless creative is near impossible and some tweaks will always need to be made throughout the years. If you creatively solved a problem and tried to make something that effectively communicates to your audience it should be able to grow with your client. Do they need to make some updates along the way? Sure. Who doesn’t. Do you see your endeavors lasting them for 3 years? 5 years? 10 years? I know that is hard to think of since our instant lives that are based on twitter, facebook & youtube aren’t even “that” old. Look at some big brands and how their branding hasn’t fluctuated too much over the years. Apple, Coke and Nike are just a few that have stayed true to their core branding and just made some slight modifications throughout the years. Have you effectively supplied your client with the tools to grow and expand in the future or did you hinder them in the process?

Posted by Chad Engle in Fuel Your Creativity / Resoures, Tips/Tricks


We’ve all done it. We rush right to the computer. We don’t even think, we just blindly move shapes around hoping to come up with something creative. We do eventually, but what if that first “warm-up” period could be faster. What if we could get right to the good designs? You can.


Sketching will always be faster than using a computer. Even if you have a tablet, it’s still easier and faster to sketch out your thoughts instead of moving shapes on a computer. David Airey illustrates that by showing that you can switch between styles very easily. He make square B’s, organic b’s, geometrical b’s and everything in-between.


Original Creative

If you are on a computer you are tempted to peruse your favorite inspiration outlets. This is fine provided the timing is right but, you are starting something new and it’s not the time to look. It’s the time to think. Looking at the crucial ideation stage will make you regurgitate previous designs that someone else has already thought through. Marc Hemeon sketches concepts that would’ve taken him a while to achieve on a computer. The best part is he experiments with different marks, swirls, and type BEFORE hitting the computer.


Rapid Thinking

The beautiful thing about pencil & paper (or pen) or whatever you medium you choose is that it gives you the distinct ability to jump around from one idea to the next. The best apart about this is: rapid exploration. On a computer you have to spend 10 minutes connecting a few letters that could’ve taken you a few seconds on paper. This is vital because you can play out “the bad ideas” that cloud your creative judgement and then you get into the real groundbreaking creative. Alex Cornell sketches out the movement of a penguin. This movement is easily captured on paper. Through his sketches he notices the most important parts of the figure are its wings, beak and eyes.



Sketching also gives you the ability to be creative anywhere, anytime, anyplace. Paula Scher from Pentagram designed the Citi logo on a napkin in a board meeting. We as creative beings are not always sure when we will be inspired so carrying a sketchbook or having access to a napkin is always good idea. Creatives have also been known to have a sketchbook in every room. It’s a good practice that sometimes comes in handy.


Rough Mock-up

Many illustrators sketch out a general shape and then take it into photoshop or illustrator to color it or sometimes finish drawing. This gives you the added benefit of using a sketch but also the clean lines (if you choose) of a digital version. Soft Facade shows how the designs were thought out before being finalized into beautiful icons.



Do you sketch or do you just go straight into the design. Has this changed your thoughts on sketching or are you still going to do it the way you did it before?

Posted by Chad Engle in Fuel Your Creativity, Graphic Designers, Tips/Tricks